Never Pickup Strangers | By: Ernest Cumbess | | Category: Short Story - Dark Bookmark and Share

Never Pickup Strangers

Never Pick Up Strangers

After the deluge…?

Then comes the deluge…?

Sam Maxwell could not bring to mind the expression, or whatever it was, that skittered around the edges of his thoughts, other than that it contained the word ‘deluge’. Deluge was certainly the word for the downpour that generated a nerve-racking roar as it drummed on the roof of the car, overwhelming the windshield wipers and obscuring the world beyond the windshield. The cascading water created the illusion that all the world was melting…melting…
The work! It was always about the work; always about the self-perpetuating passion that over-shadowed…overwhelmed…everything else. Its ever-morphing demands were actually a buffer against his otherwise lackluster existence. And he as always on the move, going from experience to experience, secure in the knowledge that his was a work that demanded a commitment to excellence. Only such an obsession could bring a man out into this downpour.
Such a passion…

The fact that he traveled along an unlighted back road in the dead of night added a touch of spookiness. It was going to be nice to get to someplace dry and quiet. The rain thundering on the roof was maddening.
Reaching to the dash console, Sam turned on the radio. The static-riddled sounds of a rock and roll station crackled from the speakers. Frowning, he looked down at the selector buttons. He pushed the first button and got a talk show. They were always full of crap and much too opinionated. He pushed the next button and got an easy listening music station that came in clear.
Okay, his mind could use a bit of soothing.

‘The road less traveled’. Now where had that come from?

Had the trees gotten closer? Flitting around the edges of his awareness was the notion that the trees were watching him with their hollow, knotty eyes, and would, any moment, take hold of the car and shake it. But, that was paranoid, right? Just a trick of the wind and rain;—like the world melting.

A newsbreak interrupted the music. Maybe he’d get a forecast on the weather. He listened, distractedly, to the crap dished up as national news. A breaking story about robberies, murders, and a manhunt got his attention for just a minute. Sam heaved a care-worn sigh. Sounded like an episode of ‘Dragnet’ to him. The disembodied voice of the newscaster spoke with such drama.
The local stuff segued into a report on the weather. The rain was causing major flooding, and a flash-flood advisory had been issued for the entire county. The foul weather would continue for sometime yet. Well, he had never heard of any flash floods in the boonies, and that is certainly where he was.
Like an apparition the figure appeared out of the gloom, through the curtain of rain, when Sam again looked out through the windshield to the road.
“Jeez…!” he squawked. Hitting the brakes was actually a reflex action. He’s had no intention of stopping.

The passenger door suddenly came open and the man was in before Sam could get his mind around what was happening.
Should he be alarmed?

“Thanks,” the drenched guy gasped, closing the door quickly. He smiled wanly, vaguely, in Sam’s direction.

“Uh-h…sure.” Not caring to—or daring to—stare, Sam did a cursory scan of his passenger. Then, eyes squinting again out to the night, his foot went from the brakes to the gas pedal.

There had not been much to see. The man was roughly Sam’s size and build, perhaps a bit older. And there was the impression of a craggy face, mean eyes, and a mean mouth. There was also something about the man in that brief glance that made Sam uncomfortable; a tense feel. Or, was that just his over-active imagination? Sam did notice that the man was certainly not dressed for the weather; nondescript blue jeans and khaki work shirt. There was not enough light to see the shoes. The guy was wringing wet and was gonna make a mess of the car’s cloth seat cover. And what was he doing on this isolated back road in the middle of nowhere, anyway? Hitchhiking?

“I like a little stroll in a drizzle myself from time-to-time, but a man could drown out there.” Chuckle.

“I don’t care for rain…ever.”

There was no mistaking that tone. Insolence, definitely. Anger? Maybe.

Sam drove on for a time in weighty silence. The car, a large sedan, had a roomy interior, its spaciousness clipped now by spongy shadow, the stranger’s presence, and that undefined ‘push’. The only light as the ethereal glow fr4om the dashboard displays. The effect was surreal and unsettling.

“You live around here?” am asked. Nothing wrong with the question. Keep it casual.

“Not far.” The voice was atonal. Dead.

Well, how far is “not far”? Sam wondered. Considering where they were, the only homes about belonged to wildlife. Sam’s scalp prickled. He let a minute or so pass.

“How’d you manage to get caught out in this crap? It’s a miserable night to be out tryin’ to hitch a ride.” He thought that he could hear just the tiniest bit of fear in his voice. He chanced a glance at the shadow-cloaked silhouette. The man’s eyes, gleaming slightly, stared straight ahead.

“My car broke down a little ways back.” Sam didn’t recall passing any car, broke down, or otherwise. The guy had to be lying. But, why?

The song that had been playing on the radio ended. The newscaster was back.

“We have an update on the robbery and murders we carried as breaking news earlier.” The newscaster’s voice had a perky quality, as though anxious, happy even, to deliver this calamity.
“The incident is being attributed to one man. This individual, it has been learned, travels from city-to-city committing armed robberies and makes point of killing all of his victims. Both state and federal law enforcement involved in the manhunt got a break from the scene of the latest target.
“The security camera at the Tri-County Credit Union captured the entire grisly incident, along with a first look at the killer. Investigators describe this person as a Caucasian male, who looks to be in his mid-thirties. He is fairly tall, six two and three, with a medium build. He has medium length brown hair, neatly cut with longish sideburns, tapering to a point along the jaw line. He also has a heavy mustache.
“Investigators ask that the general public be on the lookout for a dark blue, 2001 Mercury Marquis, with the Illinois license plate 4HJ-368. The car belonged to one of the murdered credit card union employees. It is believed that the elusive killer will abandon the car at some point, but may still be driving it now. If anyone spots the…”

Sam had difficulty breathing. The trip-hammer slamming of his heart was overloud in his ears. He tried to glance at his passenger and saw that the man was glaring openly at him, eyes narrowed. Sam had just got his foot on the brakes when the man lunged.
His hand went to the pistol tucked into the waistband at the small of his back. The feel of the gun thrilled him, as it always did. There would be no monetary reward here. But, the killing as reward enough.
The gun came out smoothly and he pushed it against the other’s mid-section, angling the barrel up, so as to hit either the heart or a lung.

He fired.


Three times…

He took a deep breath, reveling in the mingled odors of exploded gunpowder and blood. The smell of death. He released the breath in a trembly sigh, some of the excitement dissipating.
Well, Sam thought, so much for that. Although there was no remuneration, he had done his job, and done it well.
He loved his work! His passion. Still, this is bit of business did lend validity to the old admonition to never pick up strangers. You just never knew what a person could be about.
He would have to get rid of the car. It was a nice car. He would have to keep an eye out for one like it.
He would also have to shave off his mustache and trim his sideburns. Maybe dye his hair and let it grow out some. That would time, he mused.


Beyond the windshield the torrential ran continued, unabated. He could toss the hitchhiker out and be far from here before anyone found him. Only a fool would be out in this…

How did that thing go about the deluge?

The End

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